Content of Deeper Places
In Jacoby’s introduction, he writes:
…most people struggle to attain anything more than a remote and abstract idea about God…It is little wonder, then, that we have no emotional connection with these facts… I cannot love an idea. I can only love a person with whom I have some experience (7-8)
To Jacoby, the problem we face as humans is that even for us as Christians it is difficult to have an emotional connection to God. For if we have an emotional connection with others we should experience the God who adopted us with even more “experiential engagement than we know and experience with any other person.” (9) His explanation as to why we do not directly experience God is that we have low expectations of God (9). And as proof of this claim he writes:
For example, If Moses could speak with God “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exod 33:11), how can we possibly justify an expectation of a lesser experience for us now? Is God’s plan regressive? Are we to believe that what we have now is less than what Moses had?
If we ask the question, ‘what should this direct encounter with God feel like,’ he gives us a very emotional answer. Our experience of God should be a “love relationship.” (14). In fleshing out this idea he writes:
The Hebrew notion of being “known” carries a deep relational sense. The same word is used to describe the sexual union of a man and woman in other biblical texts. In Psalm 139, the psalmist celebrates this attribute: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” (154)
Throughout his book he makes it quite clear that this experience of God is not only supposed to be direct and immediate, but is also supposed to be pervasively emotional. On page 161 he writes, “Objective knowledge is not enough; we need subjective knowledge. To enjoy someone, we need to meet and connect with him or her personally.”
- The Method
To Jacoby the key to unlocking a direct experience with God is the psalms. But the key is not just reading the psalms or praying as one reads (10). The music in the psalms is what draws us into an encounter with God (13). When the music is being properly used it can then enable us to make use of our will and experience God. Consider Jacoby’s words:
Rest comes from letting ourselves be overpowered by God… There is only one way to end the conflict: surrender… What you must do is simply walk out of the city and surrender it to him. give it all to him. Allow God to overpower you. This is worship (134).
By using the music of the psalms to enable your will, you can directly connect with God. And when…
…the shell is finally broken, a wonderful experience of happiness ensues. It is the happiness that is known only by those who have encountered God in this way. It feels like being suspended weightlessly in the ocean of God’s presence (49).
- Context and Exegesis
The foundation of this book is the premise that one can experience God immediately/directly. There is one passage he cites to prove that this is possible: “The Lord spoke with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend.” (Ex 33:11 HCSB) He then makes the argument from the lesser to the greater that if Moses spoke with God directly then how much more should we be able to?
There are several problems with this. First, when the bible says that Moses spoke to God face to face, it is speaking about the relationship that Moses had with the Lord. It is not speaking about Moses seeing the Lord in his essence. For the phrase following those words explains to us the manner in which he saw the Lord, “just as someone would speak to his neighbor” (כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר אִישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵהוּ). Second, at the beginning of the Lord speaking to Moses on Mt. Sinai, we are told that the Lord spoke to Moses “from the Mountain” (מִן־הָהָר (Ex 19:3)), not directly. Third, if we allow the New Testament to speak, St. Stephen tells us that the Lord spoke to Moses through angels (εἰς διαταγὰς ἀγγέλων(Acts 7:38,53)).
When we consider that a direct connection or communication with God is not possible for us, we wonder just what it was exactly Jacoby was experiencing when he had happiness “that is known only by those who have encountered God in this way” (49).
- Law and Gospel
Jacoby clearly delineates that God answers prayer “through his unconditional promise of favor and blessing for his people” (78). So also, he tells us that Hesed “refers to God’s love as expressed through his unconditional covenant. In appealing to God’s hesed, the psalmist is upholding the covenant by which God bound himself to bless his people unconditionally” (79-80). These statements are good and biblical. However, in complete contradiction to these statements the whole rest of the book makes God’s unconditional blessings conditional. For, he writes that we can experience God directly if we entrust ourselves to him (56), have high expectations of God (87), pursue God (96), desire God above all else (105), seek God (106), love God (107), do God’s will (129), give ourselves to God (132), become overpowered by God (133), surrender to God (134), choose God (163), simply love God (163). This list is by no means exhaustive. By the end of the book this reviewer was beginning to wonder if Jacoby understood what the word, “unconditional” meant.
- The role of music in worship
Jacoby’s continued stressing of emotions and music in the worship setting all stems from his definition of worship. He writes:
Worship is therefore giving to God what is due him, not just our service and our obedience but our very selves. We can obey and serve God to a self-gratifying extent without ever trusting in him. The entrusting of oneself to God is the essence of worship. (132)
None of us would deny that an integral part of worship is offering our praises to God. But is that the “essence of worship?” As it says in the psalms, “3 Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.” (Psa 24:3-4 NIV). And as Isaiah reminds us, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Is 64:6 NIV). What we have to offer our Lord is our sin. The essential part of worship is not us serving God. It is Jesus serving us. We could not convert our unbelieving hearts and surrender ourselves to God. So he sent his word to give us new birth (Rom. 10:17, 1 Pet. 1:23; James 1:17-18). And through that word he still comes to us to forgive our sins and preserve us in the faith.
Because of this sizable difference in defining worship, it is wise for us to exercise care in choosing and evaluating music for use in worship. For with our music we teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16). It is good to sing “In Christ alone” about Jesus winning this salvation for us on the cross. But we also find a way to sing “by scripture alone.” For scripture is the tool that delivers this salvation to us (ὅργανον δοτικὸν). As a useful tool in evaluating music for use in worship, I recommend the resource provided by a couple of LCMS pastors, called The Praise Song Cruncher.
If you have ever visited an evangelical church and asked yourself the question, “why are they so emotional” and “why is music so important to these people”, then this book will help answer that question. Music is the means through which they can excite their will and emotions so that they can surrender themselves to God. But the scripture is clear. Jesus is the one who chose us. And he comes to us mediately, through the tool he chose, his word. And since God’s promises in that bible are objective, they are not dependent on my fickle, fleeting emotions to be valid or true. May our music always sing and teach these beautiful truths.
Matthew Jacoby is the lead musician of the band, Sons of Korah. He is also the teaching pastor at Barrabool Hills Baptist Church in Geelong, Australia. He received a doctorate in philosophical theology from the University of Melbourne.
Deeper Places: Experiencing God in the Psalms, by Matthew Jacoby. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2013. 183 pages.